Ana María Matute: The Fantasy of a Surrealist Writer

by María L. Trigos-Gilbert

Some of you may think surrealism is a plastic art term, from the paintings and sculptures that different artists create. Yet when I think about Ana María Matute, I associate her with Mr. Salvador Dalí, the most famous Spaniard surrealist painter. Mrs. Matute is pretty much a surrealist, though I’m not so sure if she would appreciate this title to her writing.

The first time I read one of Mrs. Matute’s work, I felt hypnotized. I wanted to keep reading, thought the short fiction came to an end. My eyes kept staring at the last words, “Yes, yes, yes.” There were so many possible answers since Mrs. Matute had left the readers’ imagination and content to fill in the explicit questions or arguments. I became at that very moment one of those expected readers, looking for answers.

Certainly I must confess: I don’t fracture my skull in literature’s matters. I take them just as they come. Let them go just as they go, sensing little trouble in all of their aspects. Of course, there is always an exception. In this case one of Mrs. Matute’s work is my exception. “Pecado de omisión,” which translated into English, means “Sin of Omission.” Most of the time Protestantism declares that a sin is a sin, not matter what. Sin doesn’t have a size, a name, or a color. So pretty much, a sin is a sin, period. Yet I have met some Catholic people who have assured me that there is something called “white lies.” Important to say, white lies don’t have a thing to do with one’s skin color! A white lie is a little lie, nothing major or traumatic for both parts (to the one saying it and to the one receiving it).

Lope and His Sin of Omission
Mrs. Matute decided to name her sin in her story. This situation leaves two kinds of sins in this short story; one is sin of omission, and the other sin of commission. Let’s start defining sin of omission: to disregard, to oversight, or to withhold someone or something. I think that it’s the perfect time to talk about Lope, the main character. Lope is a young teenager when his mother dies. He has already lost his father, so it’s his turn to support himself and his mother. One must understand that this is taking place in a small village of Spain, and long time ago when Spain had real economic problems plus a lot of taboo. Lope doesn’t attend school for three years, going from one place to the next trying to earn some money to feed his mother and himself. His mother dies, and with her death all the tiny possibilities for Lope’s success in life.

Emeterio Ruiz Heridia and His Sin of Commission
Let’s define sin of commission: To entrust, to delegate, or to empower someone. While Lope’s mother is still alive, they receive some sort of financial help from Emeterio, a cousin of Lope’s father. Before Lope’s mother dies, she requests Emeterio to take care of her son, to look after him. Emeterio employees Lope in his farm, taking care of his cattle in a remote place of the village in which they live. He gives the child the basics, forget candies or sweet stuff. Whether we are talking about candy bars or sweet talks, from man to man or from relative to relative. Lope always does what Emeterio says, just short commands like go here, and take that. There wasn’t a personal relationship. There wasn’t a tiny moment of true compassion toward this orphan, Lope. In Emeterio’s mind, life is hard, and one must earn some kind of support in order to survive.

Where’s the Sin? Lope’s & Emeterio’s
Lope’s sin is to remain silent, withholding deep inside Emeterio’s rudeness and greediness. Feeling as if he has been taken away the chance of living with dignity, he notices the crumbs that he has been given. Crumbs are never easy to accept, and a lot less to swallow them. Yet as the saying goes, “necessity overcomes pride.” Many are the thoughts that Lope may have had during his life in poverty, a life filled with crumbs coming from the so-called relative. He has to accept whatever he gets because he’s full of nothing. Lope’s sin is of omission; he knows about Emeterio’s unfair demeanor. Instead of talking it out or getting out of his precarious situation, he gets rich of repulsion toward Emeterio. The only thing that keeps Emeterio doing as he does, is the fact that he believes he’s doing right, just by giving this child an opportunity to work.

Details, Cause & Effect
Lope never goes inside of Emeterio’s house. The very first night he expends in Emeterio’s care, is in Emeterio’s barn right there by the chickens, and perhaps other kinds of domesticated animals. He expends just one day in town, at Emeterio’s barn. Then Emeterio sends him to Sagrado, a place named Sacred when translated. Sagrado was far from town, or at least in a very hilly setting. Lope never goes to town, except for the time of the party. The name of the well known party of the town isn’t given by Mrs. Matute. Yet it’s said that this party takes place once a year since summer, fall, and winter go by without Lope going to town, but on the party’s day.

In a bar Mr. Lorenzo, one of Lope’s former teachers, sees him going to Sagrado. Mr. Lorenzo tells Emeterio that Lope is pretty sharp. He tries to tell Emeterio how important an education could be for the teenager. Yet Emeterio’s narrow vision stops Mr. Lorenzo from any more talk about the matter. In the end, Mr. Lorenzo doesn’t do a thing, just goes with the crow, Emeterio’s explanations about the importance of this teenager working. Emeterio tells Mr. Lorenzo how senseless it all seems, informing him that Lope doesn’t have a thing because of the lack of planning from Lope’s father, not even a place to live or to die. As embarrassing as it may have been, Mr. Lorenzo doesn’t argue with Emeterio, just nods in acceptance of Emeterio’s short speech.

Lope isn’t alone in Sagrado. There is a man, Roque el Mediano, close to fifty years old who is also a bit retarded. This is the only communication that Lope has with any human being year after year, though Roque never talks too much. Roque is one of Emeterio’s employees, for about around fifteen years. So here we have a young man, growing up practically in the forests with a very awkward companion. This is the only world Lope gets to know and understand. If it may help, picture that movie named Nell, though I’m sure Lope speaks a very understandable Spanish, besides understanding well what’s been said. The prove of this is when Emeterio’s daughter, Francisca, tells Lope how well Manuel Enríquez is doing in life, and the fact that is going to be a lawyer. Francisca doesn’t care about Lope’s feeling, or at least never thinks that this would make an impact in Lope’s reaction. Yet Lope’s reaction isn’t fully fulfilled until he by his own eyes looks at Manuel.

Five years have passed, five years in Sagrado. Came just on time for his check up from Emeterio’s doctor. He seems strong as an oak tree, a pillar of strength. That the doctor confirms about Lope’s health. So this medical check up assures Emeterio that his minuscule investment has been a wise move. This is the time when Lope stays in town just to attend the village’s party. Something super interesting happens. Lope looks at Manuel and hears him mumbling some words that he couldn’t understand. Manuel gets glad for having met him once again, but Lope looks at him a bit surprised. His classmate wasn’t the smart, but so he was. His classmate wasn’t a popular guy in the school that they attended. On the contrary, Manuel used to be the one wanting to hang around Lope. He still seem to be wanting to hang around Lope. Yet this time Lope doesn’t understand this gentleman’s refined manners.

Manuel fingers seem so flexible, against the inflexibility of Lope’s fingers. Manuel offers Lope a cigarette, but Lope has trouble taking the cigarette out of the silver square box, all so white, so well arranged. Lope for the first time acquires so much indignation, deep inside thinking that this was because of his bad luck, bad manager, the unmerciful Emeterio. He notices the difference between him and Manuel. One is the sophisticated, and the other the uneducated, the beast in town, Lope. Certainly here we must just say that he is a very uneducated young man. It isn’t that he is a real beast, but at least someone far from any sort of social skills. This hurts Lope more than anything else; he sees how much of a waste his life has become, being so unimportant, so commoner. Now more than ever he understand that Emeterio hasn’t been so fair after all. This is the most important moment in the story. Lope sees Emeterio entertained with his grandsons.

Lope’s Indignation Takes Shape
Lope’s blood starts getting thicker, almost like suffocating him. There he pick up a rock, almost the size of a red ruined brick. At that very moment, in front everyone Lope throws the rock toward Emeterio’s chest. That’s it. If you read this story, you will be almost speechless of such amazing end. This end is almost like an explicit or rhetorical implication. Of course, Matute gives us a bit more. The women there, including Emeterio’s thin and distasteful wife, start crying, and putting their veils in front of their faces to show their sorrow, and their lost. None of those women ever questions Emeterio, but give Lope a bitter short sermon. Their sermon is the typical question. (Dios mío, él, que le había recogido. Dios mío, él, que le hizo hombre. Dios mío, se habría muerto de hambre si él no le recoge…) Let’s translate those words: “My God, him, that was taken into his custody. My God, him, that made him a man. My God, he would have died of starvation if he wouldn’t have taken him in.” Lope gets carried by police officers, crying and saying, “Sí, sí, sí.” “Yes, yes, yes.” Now, you may see that this women favor Emeterio. In the end, Emeterio becomes the martyr, the one as the women say that gives Lope a place in the hills and food. That’s all what he gets from Emeterio.

Let’s Judge the Facts
As you may imagine, we do a lot more for people that aren’t related to us. Therefore, how are we to do less for our own relatives? This is the matter that Matute nails. Mercy, that Emeterio doesn’t get to know a bit, or at all. He thinks that his way is the only way as many people think, or perceive life. Yet Matute’s perfection doesn’t have a size. She comprises her story’s most exciting or climaxed parts with a giant suddenness, almost innocence. Her story is as people may say, “JUST RIGHT.” It isn’t something that will make you cry from the start, or at lot less something that will cause you to hate at first glance. In this story, readers want to keep reading before making a wrong conclusion. One may say that this isn’t Matute’s best story since it is too short. As far as I’m concern, this is one of her best stories, short and powerful. In less than ten minutes, Matute causes us to think, to judge, and to conclude giving a final vote.

Like a Court Trial
This story is different because here you get to be the judge, right there in the silence of your comfort. You are the one to decide how bad or good Lope has been. You may give Emeterio a break since in the end he dies. Yet there is a question pending: Are we going to forgive Emeterio, or people in general, because in the end they become the martyrs? Or are we to forgive people because they truly deserve it? Many religious people may argue this thought, almost saying that forgiveness isn’t deserved. Yes, they have a point, but it’s super difficult to forgive those who don’t want to be forgiven. Even more if I recall well, David, one of the guys who contributed to write the book of Psalms, requests God to show him his unnoticed mistakes, in order for him to take care of those undesirable traits. That’s willingness. How are we to work with those who don’t seem to have a problem, though they do? It is as if we are the one’s having a problem, but them. Am I making myself clear? I think so.

Lope, Beyond Physical Needs
This thirteen years old, then eighteen, doesn’t want Emeterio’s social statues. What he doesn’t have, he craves: a father, a mother, a family. Of course, we ought not to deny the fact that material stuff doesn’t count because here we would be a bit, if not a lot, hypocrite. Lope never gets the opportunity of having a man to man talk. All he ever knows is work plus work, from helping his widow mother to helping himself to survive. We have a sad picture which Mrs. Matute treats with a lot of respect and tact. Mrs. Matute gives the right persona, so she writes it in third person. Someone else is telling us what happened which indeed makes it more believable. If Lope tells the story, we could be a bit skeptical. If Francisca or Emeterio’s wife tells it, we are still skeptical because we would say, “Of course, she is saying it to us perhaps a lot different from what in reality happened.” That’s a very fair thought. Ha, Mrs. Matute takes care of her writing as well as she takes care of her readers.

What I See in “Sin of Omission”
I’m not so sure if to feel like Christopher Columbus in America, or if to feel just as a “mere” lucky person who has read this Mrs. Matute’s story. I have taken a lot time, thought, before I truly decided to write about “Sin of Omission.” Sometimes we read articles, stories, or researches that get into our skin. They just don’t come and go from our life. They stay forever within us. I must confess that Mrs. Matute isn’t my first favorite writer since I don’t have a very-first favorite writer. There are many writers out there who aren’t been read just because of our society’s greatness. This isn’t Mrs. Matute’s case. She is a giant among all writers, a magnificent woman. I have had the opportunity to read some of her interviews. Funny, I have understood Matute from two sides, the interviews and her stories.

Conclusion
Mrs. Matute’s Attitude Toward Life & People:

¨ Doesn’t know how to hate.
¨ Doesn’t get mad.
¨ Tolerates a lot.
¨ Too lazy to get into fights or great arguments.
¨ Doesn’t like the matter of choosing, writers, since to choose means to reject.
¨ Doesn’t consider herself a commoner, but someone with personality.
¨ Knows that she is an individualist.
¨ Doesn’t go to the bull fights in Spain because cares too much for the beasts.
¨ Will stop writing when she dies.
¨ Considers herself Catalan, Spaniard, and European.

(Note: People from Barcelona, Spain speak Catalan. It isn’t Spanish, but it isn’t a major change, as it is Galician, though Catalan is a bit more popular in Spain for Economic reasons. So Mrs. Matute stated in her interview, when asked what she considered herself the most, that she’s all that Catalan, Spaniard, and European.)

Article’s P.S.
The only thing I would object, is the fact she doesn’t go to bull fights. I’m a bull fight lover. That’s fine. “Among tastes and colors, authors aren’t set apart.”

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